Accepting and Understanding the Aging Process
Aging and dieing are natural and inevitable processes in every living thing on planet Earth. That life span may be a few days for some insects, a hundred years for some mammals, or a thousand years for some plants. Ultimately, each will age and die in it's own time. When the switch of life is turned on each living thing begins to create the elements of it's own demise. Beginnings, maturing, and endings of physical life constitute the harmonic balance of the planet itself. Anything else would be chaotic and so death is the ultimate assignment of every life. An omniscient creator has a perfect plan.
If we accept this reality of life, why do we make extraordinary efforts to rescind it? Efforts to combat this normal process and extend human life date at least as far back as 3500 B.C., and self-proclaimed experts have touted anti-aging elixirs ever since. In today's world the market for anti-aging products exceeds $20 billion per year and is growing rapidly. The potential may be $50 billion. This is not just a market for hucksters and charlatans. Respected, licensed medical professionals are getting in on the act to reap their share.
First let's take a look at what's going on in the "life extension" field. Later we will discuss a more sane approach to this very normal process.
“Get your piece of the $50 billion anti-aging marketplace!” trumpets a flier distributed to doctors at A4M’s Las Vegas meeting.
The American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine (A4M) is among the fastest growing medical societies in the world today. Founded in 1992, the A4M serves as an advocate for the new clinical specialty of anti-aging medical science and acts as a conduit to physicians, scientists, and the educated public who wish to benefit from the almost daily breakthroughs in biotechnology which promise both a greater quality as well as quantity of life.
The A4M is comprised of 22,000 members from 105 nations worldwide, as follows:
- 85% of our membership are physicians (MD, DO, MBBS)
- 12% are scientists, researchers, and health professionals
- 3% are governmental officials, members of the working press and general public
The long-term broad-reaching objectives for The World Center include:
- To train a new generation of physicians in the most promising health care model for the future, anti-aging medicine.
- To make freely and publicly available the latest research and clinical advancements in the field of aging intervention.
- To rapidly become the focal point of innovations in science-based health care that may be replicated in countries around the world, thereby making this advanced model of medicine available to all.
- To be the home of the most innovative medical science today -- indeed, the only scientific movement with the potential to alleviate the social, economic, and political woes associated with an aging population.
The above is how A4M describes their organization on their website. Goals and membership seem to be respectable and even admirable. It is the premise that is disturbing. One of their main objectives involves what they call the "field of aging intervention". To me it is arrogant and presumptive to assume that it is morally all right to interfere with the natural evolution of the planet. The harmony of life on Earth depends on each living thing dieing in it's own time. An elementary fact of cancer is that some cells don't die when they are supposed to.
Please understand that this is my personal opinion and I voice it here because of my deep concern for a society that puts it's faith solely in technology.
Critics of Age Management
In an effort to distance themselves from the snake oil salesman image profiteers in the age reversal business are now "Age Managers". Here is how some critics see this new medical industry.
Dr. Thomas Perls, a Boston University researcher who studies centenarians (people who live at least 100 years), and a vociferous critic of the industry, argues that while some practitioners “may have their hearts in the right place … in my mind the whole anti-aging practice has so many problems of ethical and professional misconduct. These practices are selling medicines and substances at great profit with very little in the way of clinical studies to support what they are doing.”
Even some supporters admit that patients of these practitioners are essentially running a giant uncontrolled experiment on themselves — increasingly at the hands of doctors.
The biggest concern about doctors getting involved is that many patients incorrectly assume that if their trusted physician is recommending hormones and supplements, these treatments must be safe and effective. The fact is, no drug, treatment or supplement has ever been shown to extend human lifespan.
The Scientific American magazine in it's December 29, 2008 issue has this to say: "Fifty-one scientists who study this have issued a warning to the public: no anti-aging remedy on the market today has been proved effective." Their full position statement is available from that issue.
The Promise of Stem Cell Research
In fairness to science I must say that the world of stem cell research is exciting and promising, especially for the elderly. Some of the primary signs of growing old such as wrinkled skin, weaker arteries, brittle bones, loss of elasticity in lungs and muscles etc. are the results of the decreasing capacity of cells ability to reproduce themselves. Since living organisms are as old as their stem cells, the ability to replace them has great potential for age related diseases. This may not be a cure-all but each disease such as heart disease, diabetes, or arthritis can be treated individually. There is even some indication that Alzheimer's disease may benefit. Now that most of the legal hassle over embryonic stem cell research is subsiding we can expect real advances beneficial to all ages.
What Can I Do?
We are, in fact, experiencing longer life expectancy mostly because of an increased understanding of the physical body. This knowledge must be tempered with wisdom. It makes no sense to pursue increased longevity if you don't feel good. The emphasis must be on the quality of life.
There is one area that all the professional "Age Managers" have in common. Almost without exception they insist that their patient/clients undertake serious nutrition and exercise disciplines. This is what we have been saying all along. You cannot experience improvements in vitality as you grow older without a conscious dedication to nutrition and exercise. So why not just start there.
There will be much more information on this important subject in forthcoming articles. Meanwhile, enjoy life today, regardless of your chronological clock. I tell my friends that being over seventy means you don't have to explain your actions. Remember; Nothing is more important than feeling good.
The Older Mind; No Cause for Alarm
How the Body Ages
Return from Anti-Aging to Vitality After 60 Homepage
Dr. Gardner's Anti-Aging & Health